Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

"The Secret Life of Bees" by Sue Monk Kidd (Viking, 2001)

The narrator, Lily, is a bookish, white 14 year-old girl born in 1950, living on a South Carolina peach farm. There's period detail - "she was wrestling with the rabbit ears on top of the TV, trying to fix the snow on the screen" (p.24). She's capable of phrases such as "When the darkness had pulled the moon to the top of the sky" (p.27) and "Rosaleen moving at the pace of a bank-vault door" (p.35). The mix of insight and naivety is I suppose believable given her age, though her religious turn is odd - I wanted to touch [Our Lady of Chains'] vanishing red heart, too, as much as anything I'd ever wanted" (p.138).

When she was 4 she accidentally killed her mother with a gun, says her father. T. Ray. She dislikes and distrusts him - "Take everything T. Ray was not, shape it into a person, and you would get Walter Cronkite" (p.109).

The Civil Rights Act has been passed. Her black home-help, Rosaleen gets into trouble and is arrested. Lily doesn't seem shocked by the violence inflicted on Rosaleen. Suddenly resourceful, Lily helps Rosaleen escape. The two of them find work and board in a distant honey firm (bees already having been introduced as a leitmotif). The 3 owners - black sisters - each have their quirks. One drowns herself. The others' religious beliefs suggest mental problems too.

Then her black boy-friend gets into trouble - "I took to wearing my days-of-the-week panties out of order. It could be Monday and I'd have on underwear saying Thursday. I just didn't care" (p.267).

August, one of the sisters, explains that she help bring up Lily's mother, and hosted her when she ran away both from T. Ray and Lily. Finally T.Ray comes to get her back but the women support her and he leaves empty-handed

The writing's not subtle. Chapters are begun by a quote from bee books, introducing the chapter's theme. I thought maybe it's a YA work with a main character designed to be empathized with, and issues to be discussed. Men are either evil or adored. Chapters 8 and 9 in particular drag on - the book could easily have been a third shorter.

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